SCVAS publishes articles about birding and conservation in its newsletter, The Avocet. See a complete list of online articles
Coyote Valley on Fast Track?by Nancy Teater
Published in July-August 2005 in The Avocet
Have you ever read a newspaper article about a complicated land use and conservation issue, complained that government officials and developers were paving over all the open space, and decided there was nothing you could do? I have. I used to say, "There are groups that follow these things and protect us from runaway development."
But I'm now a member of one of those groups. The SCVAS Environmental Action Committee (EAC) has jumped into the middle of the deep water that is the Coyote Valley planning process. We oppose any development in Coyote Valley on both environmental and economic grounds, but the plans are well along, so we're swimming hard to understand the issues most relevant to Audubon. More importantly, we're developing a strategy that will have maximum impact on preserving the Valley's wildlife and agricultural heritage.
Demographics and Politics
California's population continues to grow rapidly, and new residents must live somewhere. Those of us who arrived here in the last decades of the 1900s have driven the sprawl that formed Santa Clara Valley. It is a sprawl that one land use planner I talked to calls "shameful."
People who have jobs here but can't afford the Valley's million-dollar homes and expensive condos commute from the Central Valley, Hollister, Santa Cruz, and elsewhere. Have you been out to the East Bay or Tracy lately? Without some controls, these areas will soon be replicas of the Santa Clara Valley.
The high-density housing described in the Coyote Valley Specific Plan offers an alternative to this sort of development, and is described by San Jose as a "smart" community, with a carefully planned balance of housing, "industry-driving" jobs, retail space, recreation, transportation, and a permanent greenbelt.
How concerned should we be that Coyote Valley will soon be paved over? It depends on who you ask. In a May 10 article in the San Jose Mercury News, Mayor Ron Gonzales was quoted as saying, "I think development will take place in other parts of San Jose long before Coyote Valley." Others speculate that landowners and developers are driving the planning process forward rapidly, without adequate environmental review, and that Gonzales is bowing to that pressure with an eye to his political future.
Whether development is just down the road or several decades off, we can't afford to ignore a project that will eventually affect 7,000 acres of agricultural land and wildlife habitat.
Coyote Valley Specific Plan
Consultants to the City Planning department have been preparing the Coyote Valley Specific Plan for two years. The CVSP for South San Jose includes an area of about 7,000 acres for the development of a minimum of 25,000 residential units, 50,000 industry jobs, approximately 1.5 million square feet of retail space, a permanent greenbelt, flood and transportation infrastructure, and a variety of public facilities and services. The Specific Plan area is bound by Tulare Hill to the north, U.S. Highway 101 to the east, the City of Morgan Hill to the south, and the Santa Cruz Mountain Range to the west.
The City's General Plan has for decades included several conditions designed to ensure that development within the City occurs when and where it makes sense. The economic requirements, or "triggers" for Coyote Valley are a land use plan that will accommodate 50,000 jobs and at least 25,000 homes, a two-to-one ratio.
In early May, Mayor Gonzales and City Councilman Forrest Williams wrote a memo proposing "practical guidelines for the timing and phasing of future development" and that industrial and housing development could be started "by the willing." The conservation community, including SCVAS, Committee for Green Foothills and Sierra Club, is alarmed by the memo, believing it would weaken the development triggers, enabling development to occur earlier.
Input to the Plan
Throughout the planning process, the City has received input in several ways:
Task Force members can make significant recommendations for the plans. Members include Mayor Gonzales, Councilman Williams, County Supervisor Don Gage, landowners, developers and others. Task Force members are appointed by San Jose city officials.
Technical Advisory Committee:
The Technical Advisory Committee includes representatives from Santa Clara County agencies, conservation organizations, realtors, housing developers, and others. SCVAS Executive Director Brenda Torres-Barreto attends. Committee members receive information and can make comments, but their input carries less weight than that of the Task Force.
Public Scoping Meetings:
These meetings are required by the California Environmental Quality Act to give the public an opportunity for comment. They are held at San Jose City Hall or the Coyote Valley Golf Course.
An Environmental Impact Report process is underway. In addition to the CVSP, a number of alternatives are being considered. One is a vision document prepared by the Greenbelt Alliance called "Coyote Valley: Getting It Right." The document advocates alternatives to specific elements of the CVSP such as flood control, street layout, and public transportation. The Draft EIR is scheduled to be completed by September, and following a public comment period, will be released over the winter. Planning Commission and City Council meetings to review the EIR will be held in the spring.
A Common Sense Alternative
SCVAS joins with other environmental groups in strongly supporting additional development in Central San Jose and North First Street as an alternative to Coyote Valley. Some proposals are being discussed for these two areas, and without doing an economic analysis, it seems to me that adding housing where there is existing infrastructure and public transportation makes much more sense than building a new city the size of Mountain View in an agricultural area where everything needs to be planned and built from scratch.
SCVAS is working closely with the Sierra Club, Committee for Green Foothills, Greenbelt Alliance and others to educate ourselves and develop strategies that will have the greatest impact. We sent a joint letter to the planning staff this past March and plan to send another this summer. We will advocate strengthening the "triggers." In addition, we might join with other groups to hire a consultant who could make substantial comments on the EIR. As a last resort, we would consider litigation.
Write to the Task Force members asking them to ensure that the environmental review for Coyote Valley results in a "smart" development. Send a copy to SCVAS as well.
Send your comments to:
Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force
c/o Sal Yakubu, Principal Planner
San Jose City Hall, 801 North First Street
San Jose CA 95110
Last modified on August 22, 2005.